2022 Grants Challenge

The Academy: Immediate, Transformative, Scalable

The Academy is an exclusive 24 hour, 7-day-a-week, elite boarding school for foster youth. Each student has an independent, holistic plan setting them up to succeed in their own time, in their own way. The focus is on mental and physical health and wellbeing, first and foremost. School starts with a month long retreat to build community and trust. Stability, safety, and belonging are paramount. Students truly learn at their own pace as the curriculum is based on mastery and competence, not memorization, repetition, and arbitrary time limits.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Support for Foster and Systems-Impacted Youth

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Pilot or new project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

There are over 35,000 foster youth in LA County. The child welfare system is overwhelmed.1000's of foster youth are aging out of the system unable to read and write, hold jobs, progress onto further education, or forge a path forward that doesn't involve homelessness, prostitution, gangs, or support from social welfare. Academically, the gap between foster youth and other students continues to widen. A recent report, The Invisible Achievement Gap: Education Outcomes of Foster Youth in California’s Public Schools, the 1st comprehensive account of how foster care impacts the educational outcomes of foster youth in CA. Compared to all other student groups (including those with the widest educational achievement gaps: English learners, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, students with disabilities),foster youth have a significantly greater academic gap. Foster youth have languished waiting for society to step-up and "do something". The Academy will do just that.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

The Academy is a holistic, academic/social/residential hybrid that will address, in the right sequence, the emotional, practical, familial, and educational needs of foster youth, giving them the foundation to pursue a rich and fulfilling life as contributing members and leaders of society. Most educational models begin and end with academics and rely on familiar means of pedagogy and supervision. The focus of The Academy is on well-being and mental health first and foremost, using unconventional methods to educate and care for our students. We start where the students are, not where they should be. The Academy model is centered on five tenets: Healing-First (school starts with a retreat focusing on eating, sleeping, mental health and building trust), Reading Remediation and Mastery (focusing solely on reading and writing for as long as it takes), Competency-Based Learning (students have up to 7 years to complete high school, taking the time needed to master the curriculum), Community as Family (life-long support) and Foundational Relationships (strengthening life-long relationships). The essence of The Academy model has been theorized and but never accomplished. There are “Whole Child Instruction” models, Community Schools, even a few Residential Public Schools that bring bring positive results for some students, but none fully realize what they set out to achieve. In demonstrating the efficacy of its model, The Academy will open the door wider for others to do the same.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

The Academy will disrupt the child welfare system not only in Los Angeles, but throughout California and the rest of the country. The Academy's model can be replicated at Universities throughout the country, is easily scalable, economically sustainable, and logistically achievable in a very time efficient way. Beyond foster care, The Academy will have a significant effect on sex trafficking and homelessness. According to a recent LA Times article, "Nationwide studies suggest that up to 90% of juveniles and young adults who were victims of sex trafficking have been in foster care... Although there’s no single driver of homelessness, it’s clear that many people living on the street are “graduates” of county programs like foster care that offer too little, or poorly targeted, help". The Academy also aims to break the cycle of foster youth's own children entering the foster care system, through education and support.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

The Academy will be fully operational by 9/1/23 After Year 1 All Students will end the school year with a GPA of 3.0 or higher All students will be absent 10% or less of the school year All students will receive exceptional mental health services All students will report wanting to return to The Academy for Year 2 A successful graduate of The Academy will have: An established, appropriate, nurturing place to live A detailed, supported life-plan for both the immediate and long term The ability to read and write on at least a 9th grade level At least two relationships that have the potential to be life-long A strong understanding of their traumatic experiences/histories and methods to prevent these traumas from controlling their lives Identified activities that bring them joy and solace Hope and excitement for what comes next 2025 The Academy Model is scaled throughout California 2027 The Academy Model is reproduced in Universities throughout the country

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 25

Indirect Impact: 300